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A CurtainUp Review
Marathon '99: Series A
Ensemble Studio Theatre's 22nd Annual Festival of New One-Act Plays
"All About Al," "Maiden Lane," "Deaf Day" and "Goodbye Oscar"

by Les Gutman

In that other rite of spring, baseball, a batting average over .300 is considered cause for celebration. Not so at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where the annual festival of new one act plays regularly scores far more often than it strikes out. This year's Marathon promises an even dozen contenders and, if the first quartet of plays is any harbinger, we can expect well over a .500 season.

Leading off is the oh-so-clever "All About Al". The "Al" in question is short for Allison (Jennifer Carta). While the play is really all about Gil (Mark Girodano) and Lenny (Mark Feuerstein),  we do learn more about Al than she'd likely want us to know. A disheveled, neurotic Lenny stumbles into Starbucks at what seems like an inopportune moment for his friend Gil, who is sitting at a table waiting for his girlfriend, Al, so he can break up with her. Having recently been dumped by his own girlfriend, Lenny is both outraged at Gil's insensitivity and interested in dating al himself. While the former makes no impression on Gil, the latter sends him into a rage -- so much so that he starts rethinking the breakup. Two splendid character portrayals are a perfect setup for Al's late arrival and a surprising zinger of an ending.

"Maiden Lane" is the only disappointment in the night's offerings. It manages to say the least with the most words. Kate (Judy Tate) and Leon (Johnny Lee Davenport) are an up-and-coming African-American couple searching for a new home. They must confront issues of dignity and identity, as well as of their relationship, when she detours from the integrated neighborhoods in which they have been looking into an all-white enclave. The light-skinned Kate can easily "pass," whereas Leon never could. She falls in love with the lakefront home of Evelyn (Judith Roberts), an older white woman. She is also enchanted by the "other" life she experiences during several weeks of visits with Evelyn. It becomes painfully clear that this is one of those neighborhoods that is white not by accident but by design.

Although it has a well-thought out structure in which Kate moves fluidly between scenes with her husband and her new racist friend, and is especially-well directed, "Maiden Lane" is overloaded with unnecessary diversions and unrealistic circumstances. A visit from Kate's equally light-skinned mother (Petie Trigg Seale) is entirely superfluous. The result, in spite of fine acting all around, is a work that never makes a point beyond the obvious, and makes dull work of accomplishing that.

Leslie Ayvazian's elegant "Deaf Day" underscores in its brief subtlety all that is wrong with the preceding work. It is reminiscent of her entry in the Marathon last year, "Plan Day" (see link below), and my description of her performance there is apt in describing the stunning spoken and signed performance of Kaitlyn Kenney here: it brims with warmth and wears a broad smile. A deaf mother poignantly and sharply teaches her unseen deaf son the "ropes" while learning quite a bit from her child as well. With very few brush strokes, Ayvazian, who directs her own work, is able to achieve much.

In "Goodbye Oscar," the Obie-winning Romulus Linney turns to the seemingly inexhaustible subject of Oscar Wilde, fueled, as is most often the case, by Wilde's own epigrams. This is Wilde's final scene: his "duel to the death with the wallpaper," November 30, 1900, in the Hotel D'Alsace, Paris. Jack Gilpin's portrayal of Wilde is appropriately restrained and yet sharply nuanced, telegraphing with his eyes and chin as much as with his words as moments from his life pass, at some remove. Dashiell Eaves is his perfect counterpoint, representing visions from Wilde's past and, finally and with anticipated irony and wit, of Jesus ("...just like me to presume I meet you as I lay dying -- and think I've met you before.") All very well acted and directed.

As with previous Marathons, the lithe stagings are matched by carefully thought out sets, lights, costumes and sound that do a remarkable job of enhancing the brief moments each production is before us. Greg McPherson's lighting work and Beatrice Terry's extensive sound design, in particular, run circles around the work sometimes seen in far more substantial, longer running productions.

One home run, three hits and one error. Not bad for a few innings in Hell's Kitchen.
Series A
Series B
Series C including Leslie Ayvazian's "Plan Day"
by Cherie Vogelstein
Directed by Jamie Richards 
with Mark Giordano, Mark Feuerstein, Jennifer Carta and JC Cassano 

by Cassandra Medley 
Directed by Irving Vincent 
with Judy Tate, Johnny Lee Davenport, Judith Roberts and Petie Trigg Seale 

written and directed by Leslie Ayvazian  
with Kaitlyn Kenney 

by Romulus Linney
Directed by Peter Maloney 
with Jack Gilpin and Dashiell Eaves

Set Designs by Kris Stone 
Costume Designs by Amela Baksic  
Lighting Designs by Greg MacPherson 
Sound Designs by Beatrice Terry 
Ensemble Studio Theatre 549 West 52nd Street (10/11 AV) (212) 247- 4982 
May 5 - 16 , 1999
Time: approximately 2 hours with one intermission
Reviewed by Les Gutman May 7, 1999
Details on the next two series in the Marathon are: 

Series B runs May 19 - 30 featuring "In the Western Garden" by Stuart Spencer, "The Golf Ball" by Frank D. Gilroy, "Dreamtime for Alice" by Susan Kim and "The 'I' Word: Interns" by Michael Lewis Wells. 

Series C runs June 2 - 13 featuring "Up, Down, Strange, Charmed, Beauty and Truth" by Edward allan Baker, "War" by Bill Bozzone, "The Once Attractive Woman" by Christine Farrell and "Roman Fever" by Jamie Richards and Kevin Harris (adapted from a short story by Edith Wharton. 
©Copyright May 1999, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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